Director of Rugby Chris Boyd admitted the never-say-die performance of his 14-man Northampton Saints side on Sunday filled him with pride.
The Men in Black, Green and Gold had to play for more than an hour with a one-player deficit against defending champions Exeter Chiefs at Franklin’s Gardens, following an early red card for lock David Ribbans.
In front of a boisterous, sold-out crowd of almost 4,000 supporters, Saints refused to relent during the opening 40 minutes and led 18-0 at half-time thanks to two Rory Hutchinson tries and the boot of Dan Biggar.
Despite a rapturous reception at the interval, with the roof of the Gardens being raised as Northampton left the field, Exeter showed the form that won them a Premiership and European double last season in the second half – and eventually earned a 29-26 win thanks to Joe Simmonds’ penalty seven minutes from time.
We believe the word here is: Joué 🤌— Northampton Saints 😇 (@SaintsRugby) June 7, 2021
Watch back the best of a thrilling afternoon of rugby at Franklin's Gardens.
Saints were hammering on the Chiefs’ door right until the final whistle, turning down a late shot at goal to chase a famous win, and although they fell just short in the end Boyd was more than satisfied with the determination his side showed when the odds were stacked against them.
“It was close, but no cigar,” said Boyd. “At the end of the day, when we were trying to decide whether to try to kick the penalty at the end, the draw, the win, or the loss wasn’t really important.
“What was important for us was the character, the resolve and the determination to work with 14 men.”Chris Boyd, Director of Rugby
“Exeter started winning those collisions in the second half so instead of being on the front foot and really slowing their ball down, we were getting penalised. They kicked to the corner, got their lineout drive going and got three tries.
“We know what we need to do when we play Exeter to get a performance, and we did it for as long as we physically could.
“We just couldn’t quite slow the ball down, so we started infringing and they got up the field and came away with the win. But it was a tremendous effort from our guys.”
While it was not the full complement of points Saints would have wanted, the losing bonus against Chiefs did guarantee that Northampton would finish fifth in the Gallagher Premiership standings this term with one game still to play.
But with the frustration of missing out on the play-offs still palpable, Boyd said: “Ultimately, it’s a feeling of disappointment this season, that we didn’t put on a better show and get in the top four.
“The four teams that are there have all had good seasons and they are four worthy semi-finalists.”
Saints’ two British & Irish Lions, Dan Biggar and Courtney Lawes, caught the eye on Sunday with two more performances that showed exactly why they have been called up for Warren Gatland’s tourists this summer.
Following the match, Boyd also addressed media speculation that the duo could be on the radar of European champions Toulouse – giving those particular suggestions short shrift.
“Dan Biggar to Toulouse? Haven’t they got a decent fly-half (Romain Ntamack) there already?” Boyd said.
“I’m not even going to speculate on gutter journalism.”